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Iberê Camargo revisited

AlmAlmost ten years after the painter's death, research produces a catalog of theartist's works

A scientific assignment is helping the Iberê Camargo Foundation, from Porto Alegre, to produce a definitive document about the works and documents that there are on its premises by the painter from Rio Grande do Sul. Eight researchers have been working for three years on classifying and cataloging over 3,000 drawings, 217 oil paintings and 354 etchings that there are in the institution. The study has support from Petrobras, from Itaú Cultural, from the Research Support Foundation of the State of Rio Grande do Sul – which is financing two scholarships for scientific initiation -, from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).

The work will result in the issue, in 2005, of the catalogue raisonné of Iberê. The publication, which will be divided into three volumes (for paintings, engraving engravings and drawings) will be launched together with the inauguration of the Iberê Camargo Museum, a daring work of over 8,000 square meters, built on the banks of the Guaíba River, to a project by Álvaro Siza. The design won an award at the last Venice Architecture Biennial.”The catalog will contribute towards protecting Iberê’s works against forgery”, says Mônica Zielinsky, the coordinator of the works for the raisonné.

“We are aware that the works at the foundation are just a part of the artist’s legacy, which must be around 7,000 works. But it is difficult to find pictures that are scattered over the country, in the hands of so many private collectors and public and private institutions”, she comments. In the first place, the cataloging of the foundation’s collections will be concluded. At the moment, a retrospective show is taking place of the painter’s works, entitled Iberê Camargo: In the Face of Painting.

There are a hundred or so works, among paintings, drawings and engravings, chosen and organized by art critic and curator Paulo Venâncio Filho. They are currently being exhibited at the State of São Paulo Art Gallery (until July 20), and follow in next to Rio de Janeiro (Imperial Palace), Recife (MAMA) and Salvador (MAM). In the exhibition, also to be seen are sketches and models that give a good notion of how the building designed by Siza will look. By a coincidence, the catalog, the museum and the retrospective are happening close to the year in which would complete his 90th year. Born in 1914, the painter died of cancer in 1994.

“The work of cataloging proved to be far more extensive that we imagined at the first instant”, tells Mônica Zielinsky. “There are difficulties, because besides being work originally prepared by hand, using cards, everything afterwards is recorded on a database”, she says. “Wehave to identify works of which we have little detail. So we depend a lot on the memory of people who have been close to Maria, his wife, and Eduardo Haesbaert, who was his printer (of etchings) and is today responsible for the collection.”

Although these two living sources have much information on the work of Iberê, the level of detail for cataloging, classifying and identifying is extremely great, which calls for an enormous effort in research. Besides the name attributed to the work and the technique employed, each cards includes the date of production, the place signed, a transcription of what Iberê may have written on the back, the value estimated by the painter himself, a parable (in the works for which the artist created a code) and an inscription (for example, when he dedicated the work to a friend).

“We also took note of the conditions in which the work is to be found at the moment of being cataloged, so that it will be possible to monitor what will happen with it in the course of time and when it is lent for an exhibition”, Mônica observes. At the stage where the work now stands, only the drawings and the painter’s correspondence (he had a great turn of phrase and loved to write to friends and relatives) will still have to go through the process. According to the coordinator of the study, the researchers had several surprises.

“We discovered things that were unknown to the public and to some critics, like figurines and scenarios for the theater. Also found were paintings on ceramics, tapestries, and even a work done on the bark of a banana tree.” This is not to mention a few curiosities, like the bills from the shoe repairers and a lot of documents and letters. The cataloging done by the team will not only make it possible to identify Iberê’s works – avoiding forgeries – but also contribute towards the work of art researchers and even biographers.

While this is not yet possible, the public in general can get a good idea of the main phases of the painter’s career in the Iberê Camargo: In the Face of Painting exhibition. Divided between rooms, the works follow a chronology, but not in a linear way. To make this clear, Paulo Venâncio Filho opted to put at the beginning of the exhibition space works from the beginning and from the end of the painter’s career. Separated only by half a wall, figurative works from the 40’s, like the landscape of Rio called Lapa and a Self-Portrait are in the same environment as Solidão (Solitude), the last canvas painted by Iberê in the year of his death.

In the other rooms, one can see Iberê Camargo’s pictorial evolution. Although not linked to a specific artistic movement, he marked the history of Brazilian art with a very personal gestural expressionism, in which the explosion of the paints and the brushstrokes on the canvas portray a very intense personal uneasiness. “His hallmark is pictorial research, which never abandoned. Iberê, born in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, always had an awareness of the importance of painting in Western culture. Going to live in Rio de Janeiro and studying in Europe, he always set before him the challenge of being a great painter. He did not belong to a movement, but neither was he an alienated painter, particularly with regard to artistic matters. He fought, for example, to perfect the techniques of painting”, says Venâncio.

In the pictorial journey presented by the exhibition, two elements can be found that are just as present in the works of Iberê Camargo as thelittle flags in Alfredo Volpi’s: reels and cyclists. “They are symbols for his reminiscences of childhood, very important for Iberê”, Venâncio comments. A surprise for those who accompany the trajectory of the display is the work unfolded by Iberê as far as colors are concerned. Solitude, which could express a painful relation with death – the painter was already suffering as a consequence of his cancer -, shows an expansive palette, vibrant even, totally different from the somber profile of several previous canvasses.

The shadow of these oils on canvas – present, for example, in the countless pictures that have reels as their theme – has called the attention of the media. But what one notices is that it does not necessarily refer to Iberê’s relationship with the end or the unknown. “Analyzing his work as a whole, we notice that throughout the whole of his life he was a very uneasy man. His painting reflects this”, says Mônica. To give an even greater quality to the work of cataloging Iberê’s work, the team coordinated by Mônica is also carrying out works of reflection, with the purpose of producing texts and conferences about the artist’s contribution towards the history of Brazilian art and culture. These researches are based on the methodology of Michael Baxandall, a scholar from the area of the social history of art, which uses analytical theory as a method of work.

“The work consists of inter-relating documents and works so as to arrive at a conclusion on the repercussion of Iberê’s work on the artistic and historical panorama of the country”, the researcher explains. For Mônica, the three volumes resulting from the research are just the first of a job of cataloging that may be continued whenever new works of the artist are discovered.